As much as it pains me to admit it, a guilty pleasure of mine the last three years has been the website Total Frat Move. Yes, it’s juvenile, terrible humor that promotes everything bad about college — but, hey, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still funny. Last Thursday night, as I was partaking in this particular indulgence, I stumbled upon a somewhat more serious — though still humorously written — article about sorority rush at the University of Alabama. According to this story,which links to a report published in The Crimson White, Alabama’s student newspaper, two black women failed to receive a bid at any sorority this fall, reportedly because of their race.
Upon seeing the title to this particular story, I quickly concluded exactly what I was about to read. Because of some sort of de facto racism, all of the sororities at Alabama refused to bid any black girls and the conservative-leaning TFM writer was going to conjure some typical response dismissing all claims of racism more complex than a Klan member burning a cross.
Instead, I was very pleasantly surprised.
What actually happened was many of the top sororities at Alabama saw these two girls as highly qualified candidates for membership — noting their high levels of involvement, great performance in school and prestigious families. As they began the bid process though, their alumnae advisors informed them that if they were to extend a bid to a black woman, funding and support would be removed from the chapter.
OK, so maybe “pleasantly surprised” was a poor choice of words — clearly, this is still a horrendous occurrence of modern-day racism. But there’s a silver lining to this story that can’t be ignored.
As it turns out, a large number of members in multiple sororities actively fought their influential alumnae, asserting that the women were ideal candidates and it was wrong to drop them based on their race, spending hours in their chapter house crying over the path their alumnae strong-armed them into taking. Most importantly of all though, multiple girls from multiple houses have sought out reporters to reveal these injustices, fully knowing the personal risks they took in doing so.
Despite being privileged members of society — due to both their race and their social status — these girls fought against the status quo and behaved in a way that broke my own preconceived notions about sorority girls in the south. Even in a part of the country that can retain a great deal of prejudice, I can still take pride in my generation choosing not to discriminate based on race.
I’m not going to paint this picture too simply, as clearly there was more going on here than women being coerced into dropping black recruits. These girls could have protested more, and I’m certain there were some girls — or even entire houses — who didn’t fight this discrimination at all. Moreover, there are conflicting claims of fraternities threatening to disaffiliate with integrated houses as well — raising further questions about discrimination in the University of Alabama Greek system. Regardless, the women who voiced their dissent and reported the discrimination still deserve our applause.
To all of you women who stood up during your recruitment process and blew the whistle on the whole situation, I want to express my admiration and pride in what you’ve done. You may face serious criticism from your alumnae, your peers and even some of your sisters, but just remember that the boos are coming from the cheap seats. And even as you face this adversity, don’t leave your chapters — they need you now more than ever. As Jimmy Hood, the first black student in Alabama history, once said, “One person can make a difference if that one person is committed to making a difference.”
The last few years of your time in college may be difficult, but the change you’re starting will be worth it.
Finally, to the alumnae who bullied these girls into dropping two well-qualified young ladies based on race, I have this to say: 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of desegregation at the University of Alabama, when Jimmy Hood and Vivian Malone were famously stopped in person by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. I don’t need to tell you who the heroes and villains in this story are. Think very carefully about your next moves. If you choose to take the same path as Wallace, then I’m certain he’ll be holding a spot for you on the ash heap of history.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.